Last week saw the publication of the government’s long-awaited draft media bill. Such mainstream media attention it has received highlights the proposed repeal of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. This piece of legislation is based on the Leveson Inquiry recommendations passed by parliament but never implemented by government.
Repeal of Section 40 will delight media moguls
Although by no means unexpected it will delight the media moguls, as Section 40 would in theory require major media providers to submit to rigorous independent regulation rather than the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO) set up and supported by the large newspaper groups. IPSO has been described by Hacked Off, who were instrumental in achieving Section 40, as a regulator that has never carried out any actual regulation.
Guaranteeing prominence for public service broadcasters
Sections of the draft bill which guarantee public service broadcasters prominence on streaming platforms and other devices have been welcomed by the National Union of Journalists.
The draft bill is divided into seven parts, which include a section containing provisions on the so called ‘sustainability challenges’ faced by Channel Four Television Corporation (‘C4C’) – including the introduction of a new sustainability duty and removal of an existing restriction on C4C’s involvement in programme-making. Recently, the government decided not to proceed with the privatisation of the broadcaster.
The draft bill will also ensure major TV sporting events, sometimes called ‘listed events’, such as the Grand National, Wimbledon Tennis finals, the Olympic Games, and World Cup remain free to watch on public service broadcasters.
Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer said changes to viewing habits had put traditional broadcasters under unprecedented pressure.
“These new laws will level the playing field with global streaming giants, ensuring they meet the same high standards we expect from public service broadcasters and that services like iPlayer and ITVX are easy to find however you watch TV”, she said in a statement.
Ignoring calls for reform
However, its provisions show that the government has no intention of pursuing effective regulation of large-scale media, a long-standing call by media reform organisations such as Hacked Off and the Media Reform Coalition. Missing from the draft bill are any proposals for the reform of media ownership (according to the Media Reform Coalition in 2021, just three companies dominated 90% of the national newspaper market), independent and effective press regulation, and greater investment in regional and local news.
Calls for ending party political influence over the BBC by replacing the broadcaster’s Royal Charter, which expires at the end of 2026, with an independent legal structure which would end government appointments and enable funding levels set by an independent body are also ignored in the bill. These ideas are discussed in the Institute for Public Policy Research’s ‘Building a vision for a People’s BBC’.
Trust in UK press extremely low, research shows
The government said it was publishing the bill in draft form because it was continuing to consult with the industry on the proposals. The parliamentary timetable for considering the final bill is not known.
Meanwhile, the UK has one of the lowest levels of trust in news according to a new survey conducted in 24 countries.
The research, conducted by King’s College London as part of the World Values Survey which takes a broad look at social, political, economic, religious, and cultural values around the world, found that only 13% of people in the UK trusted the press.
Only Egypt ranked lower of the 24, with only 8% of people there saying they had confidence in the press.